The only criticism I had of John Lawrence’s last CD, Old Smooth, was that he didn’t offer any original material. For someone who plays as remarkably well as Lawrence, this wouldn’t have been worth noting had he already established a lengthy track record of originals preceding his earlier release.
On Summer Nights, however, Lawrence has taken on the challenge of writing his own material, and the result is a considerably stronger CD aimed squarely at the smooth jazz audience. His formidable technique is reminiscent of both Wes Montgomery and George Benson, and skillfully combines his blinding fretboard speed together with thoughtful, well-placed phrases.
Lawrence’s abilities have garnered considerable attention both locally and nationally. Just as an example, one of Lawrence’s transcribed solos is currently listed in Mel Bay’s Jazz Guitar 2000, a book featuring solos by the world’s finest jazz guitarists. But if you ask any number of musicians on the scene in Detroit who he is, not many will know. For now, one of the best jazz guitarists that you’re likely to see playing the local scene — or anywhere else — is still best known in and around his home of Ypsilanti, where he was raised.
If “Summer Nights” gets the attention it deserves from the right places, however, Lawrence will soon no longer be one of the best jazz guitarists yet to be fully discovered.
Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-based freelance writer and musician. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.